Category Archives: Linguistics

Smart or Dumb? ¿Debo sentir inteligente o estupido?

Asi es la vida que cuando no necesitamos pensar en nada, tenemos pensamientos buenos. Caminando en las calles de Bogota, vi un seña para carrera septima. Y es muy increible que nunca pensé antes de ver esto seña que septiembre, octubre, noviembre y deciembre corresponden al siete, ocho, nueve y diez! (Si, gracias por felicitaciones!) Aún en inglés, la conneción entre palabras September, October, November y December no es dificil de ver. Pero, no mis queridos, nunca esto pensé! Creo que es muy posible que casi toda la gente sabe los significados, de estas palabras, especialmente esos que pensaban en los nombres de meses.

Asi, ¿debo sentir inteligente o estupido?

Y, una otra pregunta – ¿porque los meses numeros 9, 10, 11 y 12 corresponden a los numeros 7, 8, 9 y 10? Cuando tuvimos este cambio de dos meses?

English vs Espanol: Second person vs. third person conjugations

Contrast these English and Spanish sentences

Person English Español   Notes
1st I sing. Yo canto.    
2nd You sing. (Tu) cantas.   “s” in Spanish
3rd He sings. Él canta.   “s” in English
1st I eat. Yo como.    
2nd You eat. Tu comes.   “s” in Spanish.
3rd He eats. El come.   “s” in English

This general notion that verbs for the second person end in “s” and for the third person do not end in “s” is fairly standard in Spanish. The reverse is fairly standard in English.

The obvious question follows: is this kind of conjugation fairly common in the respective Romance and Germanic families? Is the contrast a common contrast between those families?

Etymology – When it doesn’t work (And some phantonyms)

All of us have a conscious or subconscious focus on etymology that serves us well, except at times when it doesn’t! See this video for an example.

Once in a while we come across a phantonym – a word that sounds opposite of what it means. The word “suffrage” is an excellent case in point, even though it wouldn’t qualify as a phantonym. The word root has been lost and the word sounds similar to “suffering” and has a negative ring to it. That combined with the age of the kids, I don’t take the video too seriously, I think it just makes a good joke, that’s all.

A similar confusion exists between bondage (bad) and bonding (good). I know that there is at least some confusion about this topic, because even one of our recent Presidents has said that “Republicans understand the importance of bondage between a mother and child.”

An interesting note in Spanish

Here is one thing that I observed that has been interesting even to native speakers.

Firstly, the first person present tense marker usually is “o”. For example: “yo hablo”, “yo pienso”, “yo camino”, “yo digo” etc. This is especially true for regular verbs. Typically, in these cases, the 3rd person marker ends in “a” or “e”, for example: “el habla”, “el piensa”, “el camina”, “el dige” etc.

Now, consider the pretérito for the same, and the situation is sort of reverse. For example: “yo hablé / el habló” “yo pensé / el pensó” “Yo caminé / el caminó” “yo dije / el dijo”

Interesting, no?

Arroyito – Translation in English

This is my attempt at translating Arroyito to English.  I have left some of the translations as very literal to the point that they may seem awkward in English. At other places, I have translated with semi-equivalent poetic English text. I hope I have done justice to the original song.

Original (en español) English Translation
Amaneció, y me encontré con que emprendiste un largo viaje
Mi corazón se te escapó del equipaje
Y se quedó fue para llenarme de recuerdos
Amaneció, y el gallo viejo que cantaba en la ventana
Hoy no cantó, pues tú no abriste la mañana
Y hasta el viento se devolvió porque no estabas
Dawn came, and found that you ventured on a long journey
My heart escaped from (your) luggage
And it is still filled with memories
Dawn came, and the old rooster was singing in the window
Today it did not sing, because you did not open the morning
And even the wind has returned because you were not (here)
Eres el arroyito que baña mi cabaña
Eres el negativo de la foto de mi alma
Eres agua bendita que crece en mi cultivo
Eres ese rayito que me calienta el nido
You are the stream that runs by my hut
You are the negative of the picture of my soul
You are the holy water that grows in my crops
You’re that glimmer that warms my nest
Atardeció, y el corazón abre su álbum en silencio
Un acordeón le va imprimiendo los recuerdos
Y hace también una canción para que vuelvas
Atardeció, y ya se va la claridad de mi cabaña
No siento luz en los rincones de mi alma
Pues ya no tengo todo lo que llevas dentro
Evening came, and the heart opens its album in silence
An accordion is printing the memories.
And also makes a song for you to come back
Evening came, and the light goes away from the hut
And I don’t feel the light in the corners of my soul
And I no longer have that you bring inside.
Eres el arroyito que baña mi cabaña
Eres el negativo de la foto de mi alma
Eres agua bendita que crece en mi cultivo
Eres ese rayito que me calienta el nido
You are the stream that runs by my hut
You are the negative of the picture of my soul
You are the holy water that grows in my crops
You’re that glimmer that warms my nest
Yo sólo quiero ser el dueño de tu amor
Yo sólo quiero ser el dueño de tu risa
Para encontrarte y devolverte el corazón
Que me acompañes por el resto de mi vida, uy!
I only want to be the owner of your love
I only want to be the owner of your laughter
To find you again and return you (my) heart
And that you accompany me for the rest of my life. Uy!
Eres el arroyito que baña mi cabaña
Eres el negativo de la foto de mi alma
Eres agua bendita que crece en mi cultivo
Eres ese rayito que me calienta el nido
You are the stream that runs by my hut
You are the negative of the picture of my soul
You are the holy water that grows in my crops
You’re that glimmer that warms my nest



Recent vanity plates

Saw some cool vanity plates recently.

“US Stocks up” – A case for Esperanto

As I read the headline today: “US Stocks up”, I was a bit put off by the (even if slightly) ambiguous nature of this statement.  Does it mean that US stock markets are trading higher today, or does it mean that US companies are stocking up with larger portions of supplies?  From the context, a lot can be inferred, but do you find it acceptable that we have to look at the context to infer what a headline means?  Or does the mere fact that two perfectly valid sentences with entirely different meanings can be exactly the same, cause you to squirm?   (It makes me squirm, because the word “stocks” can be both a noun and a verb, and I just can’t be sure what it is in this case.)

Now I am sure ambiguity has its advantages – poetry, funny pictures, man trying to answer if his wife looks fat, etc, but a news headline is not exactly the place where I find ambiguity to be so critical.

Ambiguous sign

And that brings us to  Esperanto – the magical language where ALL nouns have to end in “o” and all present tense verbs have to end in “as”.   How would these sentences be written in Esperanto?  Well, I don’t know Esperanto, but I am happy to take a pass at it using the grammar, as described here.

Usonaj stockoj tradas upo.  (US stocks are trading up.)

Usonaj companoj stockas upo.  (US companies are stocking up.)

Whether or not I have it correctly here, the marked difference in the two sentences in Esperanto is refreshing.  🙂

Story of the Human Language – Words vs Sentences

My previous posts about etymology may have revealed my affinity for this field.  Recently, I have been going through John McWhorter’s The Story Of Human Language, and just in a couple of sentences (some in the preface, and some in the very end), it has transformed my perspective on this.  Essentially, being curious about word roots is only so interesting.  A bigger question is – how did the entire language (grammar, sentence structure, word roots, all together) shape up to be the way it is today?  Specific questions about the words can help us in understanding the larger question about the language, although they will be one of many threads that we need to straighten out.

So here is the generally accepted evolution tree of English, with some notes that I collected from this reading.  Some of the comments may be influenced by the fact that McWhorter is an expert in the language contact phenomena.

Evolution of English

Here are a few things that I found of interest:

  • About one-third of vocabulary doesn’t trace to Indo-European but to some other language (possibly Semitic).  For example, the word “maiden” traces back to Proto-Germanic “mahathis”, which may be related to Proto-Semitic word “mahath”.  [I can’t help but notice that Spanish word for maiden would be something like mujer, but I don’t know the root of that.]
  • Tense markers for verbs that use vowels, i.e., ablaut and Germanic Strong Verbs are possibly derived from some semitic language where this method of marking the tense via vowels (instead of a prefix) is the standard.
  • English is the only Proto-Indo-European language that has so little gender.  Other PIE languages do have gender.  This points to the language contact with the Vikings and possibly is one of the grammar simplifications made as part of that language contact.
  • Grimm’s law which explains many of sound shifts through this evolution.  For example “p” in PIE is usually “f” in English.  For example “Pater” in Latin is “Father” in English, etc.

McWhorter also talks about one sentence reconstructed in the Proto-Indo-European of about 2500 BC (hypothetically, since there are no written records from that time).  The sentence is: “On hearing that, the sheep ran off into the plain.”  This is translated into PIE as “Tod kekluwōs, owis agrom ebhuget.”  Word for word, that would be: “That hearing sheep field fled.”  From this, I can understand “tod” to be “that” with reasonable sound shifts and changes.  Kekluwōs was a form of the verb that did eventually become hear.  “Sheep” is not from PIE root, although “owis” does lead to word for sheep in other languages, and also to scientific classification – the genus ovis.

And it wouldn’t complete this post if I didn’t confess my new found love for Esperanto and amusement with Solresol.